Mortlock: Centre shake-up needed

Stirling Mortlock
by Stirling Mortlock

This weekend’s third Test is no dead rubber. In fact, it could be the most important match of the series, even though the Cook Cup has already been decided.

For the Wallabies, it’s really important they finish this series well and can take a positive mentality into the Rugby Championship in August.

Australia looked a bit lost on the weekend against an England team with a clear plan that they stuck to and executed very well.

Everyone in this scenario is going to back the leaders on the pitch, as they should,  but Australia’s inability to put scoreboard pressure and adapt to wet weather conditions hurt them.

I’d argue their style wasn’t quite free-flowing, either, with the Wallabies’ search for offloads in the contact zone adding to a lot of their handling errors.

Nick Phipps did more than just pass against England. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyPlaying ball in hand rugby is exciting and can provide a great spectacle, but sometimes in Test rugby  you need to read the situation, play for territory and take the points.

It was really good to see Nick Phipps stepping up and taking some of the pressure off Bernard Foley with more kicking and outside back Dane Haylett-Petty, who’s only played two Tests but been very good in both, also took some of that heat.

Thinking about that territory focus or a shift to more kicking, I think means you need to really look at the personnel of the team.

I was a vocal advocate of the Samu Kerevi-Tevita Kuridrani partnership before the series, with the prospect the pair could really rattle England.

We haven’t really seen them take hold of a Test this series, though, and the balance of the backline hasn’t seemed quite right, with Israel Folau coming in to the front line to provide a second ball player to Foley.

A change mightn’t actually shift the dynamic as much as you think with the Wallabies getting a lot of second wave attack, which a ball player is not necessarily going to change.


I really think Australia has lost the coolhead and impact of someone like Matt Giteau, in particular in kicking. Australia has missed the handy left boot of Giteau and Drew Mitchell in this series that provided an extra exit route.

Unfortunately we don't have a left foot option but I think you have to look at Matt Toomua to play 12 for this final Test, just for the balance of the team.

Matt Toomua is an option for inside centre in the final Test. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyToomua would slot into the Test starting side well and give Foley a bit more support and potentially be a better nemesis to George Ford and Owen Farrell, who have been superb this series.

In the forwards, the intriguing setup is in the lineout.

With such a mobile, smaller backrow there are fewer options for that set piece, though Australia makes up for it with hardworking, industrious second rowers.

It’s interesting when you compare the way Australia has traditionally set up, a number of times going for that dual openside flanker structure, compared to other countries’ plenitude of lineout options.

You look back at when George Smith and Phil Waugh were in the Test side and that is often pointed to as an example of that structure working.

But if you ask any of the lineout callers of that time, they’ll tell you that it did make it more difficult.

South Africa is one that stands out most in that regard, regularly picking three or four jumpers in their side, to Australia’s usual two-and-a-half realistically.

Whatever Michael Cheika goes with this weekend, there’s no sense that this Test means less than any other.

Rather, with pride on the line as much as anything else, it means more.


Stirling Mortlock AM, Captain the Brumbies, Rebels and Wallabies scoring 1031 Super Rugby points and 489 Test points.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.